ACC St. Paul fine craft show review

Posted by on Jun 7, 2012 in art in tents | No Comments
ACC St. Paul fine craft show review

I put this off too long. I got sick at the ACC show in St. Paul, and stayed that way for a while, so this will be a down-and-dirty to-the-best-of-my-addled-memory review.

Of the three indoor fine craft shows (ACC Baltimore and Craft Boston being the other two) I decided to try this year, St. Paul is the closest to home. In fact, we still hadn’t sold our house in Prior Lake at the time of the show, so I was able to stay for free (although because the house had just been repainted it was a nightmare of toxic fumes, and no doubt part of the reason I came down with the world’s worst headache that weekend.) Free lodging, in addition to the fact that the St. Paul show had the lowest fees of the three, made it, by far, the cheapest show to do. In fact, let’s get right to the cost chart:

 

Who Took The Money

How Much They Got

What It Was For

acc

$850

booth fee

acc

$60

application fees for two media

acc

$25

membership fee divided between two shows (Balt and St P)

rivercentre

$90

electrical for the booth

parking

$35

 

gas

$158.10

 

lodging

$0

unless you count the paint headache

food

$194.02

 

 

 

total

$1,412.12

 

 

That makes the entire cost of doing this show cheaper than the booth fee for the ACC flagship show in Baltimore. Since I had $1,638.00 in sales, that also makes it the only one of the three where I merely lost money, didn’t hemorrhage it. (Remembering all those costs that aren’t calculated in the raw figures, including what I would have to pay someone to stand there all day, every day, for four days, lost productivity, materials replacement, etc. etc.)

The Logistics

Art in Motion loaded me in, with their usual professionalism. I loaded myself out, with my usual ineptitude (every time I don’t drop a track light bar on somebody else’s head is a point of amazement for me). I was able to pack up quickly enough that I got into line fairly early and didn’t have to sit there long. The dock is underground and sloped, so dollying had its treacherous moments, but otherwise this was unremarkable. I have no idea how long others may have been in line, but when I left, the line was still there, stretching out onto Kellogg Blvd.

st paul acc booth wall enamels 225x168 ACC St. Paul fine craft show review

The booth, showing the wall work, at the St. Paul American Craft Council show 2012.

As anyone who has read my previous reviews knows, I am no fan of the convention center venue, and the RiverCentre (hate hate hate that spelling) is no exception. On the up side, parking is cheap, easy, and reasonably accessible. I was able to park the F250 in an open lot, but even the ramp across the street from the venue had high enough clearance to fit me in. This was not true of Baltimore or Boston. Lack of parking stress makes for a nice switch. Why anyone would host a show where parking is a headache is a mystery to me.

Artist Amenities

Thursday night there is a preview party. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: preview parties strain the good will of the artists who have to pay for an extra day of standing around their booths and hanging around some foreign city so that the hosting organization can indulge the vanity of its members. Find another way to do that. In this particular case there was free food and champagne for the artists, which would have been nice, but the line for the food stretched into infinity and consisted primarily of sliced animal bits. I don’t eat meat, and saw no point standing in line for a few crackers and some hummus, so I didn’t. I did take the champagne and cookie, though. They were both tasty.

As to eating on the other days of the show, St. Paul had the best food vendor of the three by a healthy margin. It was an all-you-can-stack-on-your-plate one-price buffet with plenty of salads and veg options for us difficult eaters. No abundance of booth sitters, of course, but since traffic was slow that wasn’t a huge problem. I just left my booth unattended and got some food. The pasta was very garlicky, which I’m sure my few customers appreciated.

st paul acc craft show booth enamel jewelry 225x168 ACC St. Paul fine craft show review

I reduced my jewelry display for St. Paul and hung most of it on the wall. I thought the streamlining would give everything a cleaner look. Sales were not amazing.

Bottom Line

I was across from and next to jewelers, with a glass artist to the other side of me. His work was pictured on the banners advertising the event and festooning the convention center, but that was for naught. He sold one piece all weekend. The jeweler next to me was, near as I could tell, a sort of avant garde beader. I say “near as I could tell” because while some of her materials were clearly purchased commercial beads, others weren’t so clear. She didn’t make them herself, that’s all I know. I’m not sure what the difference between bead stringing and “assemblages” is but whatever you call what she was doing, she seemed to be doing okay with it. My guess is, in the immediate neighborhood, hers were the best sales. I think the guy with the leather switch plate covers did okay too. Which is not to say that only low-end went out the door. A wood turner across the aisle kicked off the weekend with a couple of very nice higher-end sales. The only other person I spoke to with wall work said sales were grim.

A jewelry enamelist* was directly across from me, and she seemed to be doing steady but not overwhelming business. She said she met her low-end goal, but she wasn’t specific about what that was. Enough, I think, for her to be willing to come all the way back from the east coast to do it again.

For me, sales quantity was actually the lowest so far this year. It was only a single sale of a pricier piece (to a very nice young professional couple. I hope they love it, and I’m really glad it found a home in the neighborhood!), which amounted to half my total dollar amount, that brought the numbers to the point they reached.

Conclusions

Noticing that my brain is slowly congealing as I type, it occurs to me that there’s really nothing new to say about this show because, considered together with Baltimore and Boston, they’re all more alike than different: expensive to do, sluggish sales, lost in convention centers like we all took a wrong turn heading for the anime con.

I thought I could be an artist who sells her work at art fairs, rather than an art fair vendor who makes stuff. Call it a failure of integrity, but I have tried too hard to make my work fit into a business model that I, evidently, have no talent for (although I would beg mercy — we are bombarded by the message that we must be business people first, artists second, regardless of where our talents lie). I would have been much better served had I retained fidelity to my artistic interests and spent less time trying to game a system that doesn’t provide enough useful information to make accurate decisions. I’m hoping these reviews help break that code of silence. Still, you can have all the information in the world and still get it wrong. Sometimes it’s just dumb luck and bullshit, whatever everybody else’s pet theories may be.

Two of the most widespread of those theories include 1: the overall economy sucks so people aren’t buying, and 2: it’s all your fault. The blame, in other words, goes everywhere but the art fair. I’d believe the first explanation more if, every time I drive past one of the many malls in the Twin Cities, the parking lots weren’t crammed full and Apple didn’t make more money than most small countries. People are shopping. They’re buying expensive stuff they don’t need. There may be a larger cultural failure happening here, but simple economics doesn’t explain it.

It’s also not your fault, dear artist. So whatever happens, don’t let them tell you there’s something wrong with your art, and that’s why nobody’s buying it. If you’re getting into these shows in the first place that’s almost certainly not it. Some of the most amazing artists out there are bombing right along with you. Last time I was in Madison the guy next to me got Best In Show. He also didn’t make his booth fee.

I think the larger question about what we, as a culture, as people, are going to consider art and what’s just a designed-by-a-human assembly (a small scale flesh factory) matters, but it also gets ugly and confrontational. Lots of good people do stuff that I don’t want to do. Stuff that doesn’t feel like art to me. Many of them seem to have figured out how to make the art-fair-as-business model work. While some of them are exploitative cheaters only out to extort a buck from an ignorant consumer, others of them are decent people trying to make a living in a merciless world. Whether or not they somehow have to justify themselves as “artists” isn’t a form of torture I want to put myself through right now. Neither do I wish to insult them or challenge their business model. I just don’t want to feel oppressed by that business model. And art fairs have been oppressive, for me, that way. They seem to be funneling us into a direction that selects for flesh factories, favoring production, design over art, modular and component construction, and outsourcing.

Unless you inhabit the stratosphere. Those galaxy-class artists, whose cheapest piece costs ten times my most expensive, keep turning up at these shows, so I’m assuming they must be selling something. I can’t help but notice, though, that many of them came to maturity in a completely different economic environment from the one we’re in now. How they rose to occupy their rarefied status may have absolutely nothing to teach me, even if they were willing to share, which most of them are not. Anyway, setting out systematically to become a rock star seems equally crass and misses the point as thoroughly as resigning myself to flesh-factory status. Which leaves me unmoored — unhappy with the two extremes that seem to be on offer. And it saps too much energy. Where do I find time to do the work if I spend it all trying to ouja out how to make it work?

This is certainly no new conversation — fidelity to one’s vision has always run up against the reality of not starving to death. But once starvation sets in, what have you got to lose by letting go? There’s a certain freedom in marketplace failure — a sort of post-apocalyptic reordering of priorities. I couldn’t be any more bombed-out than I already am, so there’s no real risk in trying something different. As my focus as an artist drifts further and further away from anything I could think of as “product” I become more excited about the work. Broke and excited beats broke and broken any day.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

 

(*) I originally named this person, not really thinking about it, but since I don’t typically name the other artists in these reviews I went back and changed that.